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Westminster Abbey & Cathedral

Although their monikers are confusingly similar, once you have seen these two structures in person, you'll never get them mixed up again. The Abbey is far older, grander, and has much more to see within it. But the Cathedral is also pretty impressive, with different attractions for the tourist. You can see larger versions of these photos, plus a few more, at the beginning of this Flickr set. And you can read about my visits to these churches in these blog entries: Westminster AbbeyWestminster Cathedral

When you stand in front of the Abbey, you can easily feel transported back to medieval Europe:

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Cathedral

....while the surprising plaza in front of the Cathedral, in the middle of bustling Westminster, might make you think you were in Venice or somewhere else where the architects studied in Byzantium


Inside the Abbey you can see the tombs and memorials of countless British luminaries from all fields of endeavor: from Newton to Churchill to Chaucer. These sites and the building's numerous little side chapels and statuary make for a most interesting tour. Photos aren't permitted inside the church, but I was able to take this picture of the Little Cloister, seen through the delicate-looking, yet durable, gothic screen, since snapping shots here is allowed:

Westminster Abbey cloister

Inside the Cathedral, you have its lovely nave to explore, but the main reason we went in was to climb its tower, where you can get some pretty nice views for a modest fee. And, they also have a little cafe whose facilities we took advantage of. The super-polite Englishness of the loo's sign just had to be documented:

view from top of Westminster Cathedral sign in Cathedral Kitchen loo

Here are some iconic details from each of the churches' exteriors:

The domes which form the roof of the Cathedral's nave look even more imposing from above:

Westminster Cathedral domes

And the Abbey has marvelous architectural details from another era, like these carvings above the main door:

Westminster Abbey figures


The Abbey has lovely associated structures, too, being much the larger complex, like the Dean's Yard:

Dean's Yard

The most striking difference between the two, however, is the much more central place the Abbey has in the historical and cultural life of the kingdom. Part of this is due to how long it's been around, part due to the fact that it's C of E and the Cathedral is a Catholic structure, but it's also due to the location of the Abbey—right next door, as you can see, to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament:

Westminster Abbey and Big Ben

But we liked the Cathedral, too.

I'll finish up here with these marvelous nighttime views of the Abbey. Not too hard to see what a special building this is, is it?

Westminster Abbey & Victoria Tower

The Abbey and its nearby neighbor, the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament, where the archives of government are stored


Westminster Abbey

The "front door"


Westminster Abbey

The nave from the outside

You can see a very important civic and cultural purpose to which the Abbey grounds are put in these photos from the Remembrance Sunday ceremonies I attended. Different groups are assigned sections of the Abbey's lawn, and memorial displays of varying elaborateness—but all featuring the ubiquitous poppies—almost completely cover it:

[spacer] RAF wreath   Abbey Remembrance panorama
[spacer]   [spacer]
Royal Navy wreath [spacer]
closeup of RAF wreath

Remembrance Sunday, the second Sunday in November, is a very important holiday in the UK, much moreso than our corresponding Veterans' Day. It's easy to understand why the commemoration of the end of World War I means more there, considering how devastating their losses were in that conflict. I put November 9 on my World War II class calendar when developing my syllabus and not only all my students but many others who were not taking the class braved the crowds and the cold on Whitehall that morning. Some of them were persistent enough, or early enough, or lucky enough, to get to see the Queen at the Centotaph, but I was content to watch the parade from around the corner from the main festivities. You can read about my experience in this blog post, and see more photos of the parade at the end of this Flickr set. But here are a few. The groups marching left to right are headed toward the Cenotaph ceremony, and the ones marching the other way passed my point after it.

Remembrance Day parade Remembrance Day parade
Remembrance Day parade
Remembrance Day parade

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